DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) — A suspect has been arrested in the 1980 homicide of Helene Pruszynski, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday morning. The suspect has been identified as 62-year-old James Curtis Clanton. Investigators used genetic genealogy to link him to the crime.
“We don’t rest on murder cases,” said District Attorney George Brauchler. “It may seem like justice has been too long delayed, but it isn’t going to be denied in this case.”
According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, 21-year-old Helene Pruszynski was found stabbed to death in a field on Daniels Park Road, on Jan. 16, 1980. Investigators believe she was abducted near Union Avenue walking from the bus stop, returning home from her internship at KHOW Radio.
She moved from Massachusetts and had only been in Colorado for a few weeks when she was raped and murdered, Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said at a news conference held Monday morning.
“This is a young girl who was just starting her life. Came to Colorado to have an opportunity to make a difference,” said Sheriff Spurlock. “She wanted to be in journalism. She wanted to be part of a bigger story.”
Over the span of almost 40 years, the case was reopened twice, according to Sheriff Spurlock.
District Attorney George Brauchler said evidence maintained and cared for over the past 40 years made a big difference in this case. In 2017, the DCSO Cold Case Unit reviewed advances in genetic genealogy and, with the help of Parabon NanoLabs and United Data Connect, as well as tools such as Ancestry.com and GEDmatch.com, they were able to identify the suspect.
DNA & Genealogy are incredible in crime fighting, but it still takes dedicated Detectives to bring it all together. Very proud of the @dcsheriff staff who brought a 40-year murder mystery full circle in just a few weeks. Truly amazing! #JusticeForHelene pic.twitter.com/RUHgKa11WK
— Chief Steve Johnson (@sjohnsondcso) December 16, 2019
Originally, detectives narrowed their search down to Clanton and his brother, but the brother was later ruled out by DNA evidence left behind at the scene of the crime.
According to an arrest affidavit, investigators surveilled Clanton in Florida for two weeks and eventually matched his DNA with the DNA on scene by obtaining a beer mug he drank out of at a local bar.
“Coming down his family tree, it appeared that his mother was a dead end, but she wasn’t because our investigation showed she had two sons that nobody had ever seen before,” said Mitch Morrissey, CEO of United Data Connect. “We figured that out and one of the sons is charged here today.”
Helene’s sister, Janet, released the following statement on Monday, via the Douglas County Sheriff’s Twitter page:
“I want people to know what a special person Helene was. My sister was my best friend. She was a loving daughter, sister, aunt, & friend. Helene was on track to do great things, she had a bright future ahead of her. There has not been a day that goes by that we haven’t missed her. The detectives and everyone else who helped to make this day happen are my heroes. I look forward to justice being served.”
Clanton now faces five charges and appeared in court Monday afternoon after being extradited from Florida over the weekend. According to Brauchler, he will not face sexual assault or felony charges due to the statute of limitations on those charges.
During the weeks leading up to the murder of Pruszynski, Englewood had experienced a series of sexual assaults in the area from where it is believed she disappeared and police were investigating whether the cases were related.